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President Bush to give speech later tonight

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The major indexes are at their lows with the Dow Industrials (INDU) 7,670 -1.35% lower by 105 points, S&P 500 (SPX.X) 820 -1.1% down 9 points and NASDAQ-100 Index (NDX.X) 982 -0.7% off 12 points after the White House said President Bush will give an unscheduled televised speech later tonight.

The speech comes just before a key report on the progress of the disarmament process from chief weapons inspector Hans Blix to the United Nations on Friday.

Following Wednesday's news that France, Germany and Russia would block a U.S. resolution to declare war on Iraq there is a growing perception on Wall Street that America plans to go after Saddam Hussein's regime in the near future with or without international approval.

Shares of National Semiconductor (NYSE:NSM) $16.11 -0.37% trade up from their session lows of $15.46 after a trading halt. During market hours, the maker of computer memory chips reported a Q3 loss (excluding charges) of $-0.03 per share, which was inline with consensus estimates. The company did say that sales rose 9.4% to $404.3 million, but still below analyst's estimates of $411.1 million. Looking forward, the company said it expected revenues to come in between $420-$432 million, which looks to be at the lower end of consensus estimates of $433 million.

The news from National Semiconductor (NSM) has helped lift the Semiconductor Index (SOX.X) 286.87 -0.52% off its session lows of 283, perhaps calming sector jitters ahead of tonight's mid- quarter update from Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) $16.66 -1.83%.

After trading a session high of $48.52, shares of Dow component and discount retailing giant Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) $47.60 -0.58% edge back after the company increased its quarterly dividend to $0.09 per share from $0.07 per share. The company also reported net sales of $18.8 billion for February, an increase of 9.2% over the same period a year ago. Wal-Mart's division sales grew 2.6%, while its Sam's Club sales increased 2.4%.

Sector action today has been mostly mixed, to lower. Early morning gains in the S&P Retail Index (RLX.X) 249 -0.3% of bettern than 1% have been erased and the only sector I show with a greater than 1% gain is the Oil Service Index (OSX.X). The move looks to have come just about the time news broke of President Bush's unscheduled speech. A quick look at our "oil service fear" stock Boots & Coots (AMEX:WEL) $0.45 +18.4% hints that MARKET participants are jittery ahead of tonight speech. However, White House watchers say they don't expect any type of "declaration of war" type of announcement, as that type of announcement would come from an "address" and not a speech.

Sector weakness in today's first half of trade is found in the Forest & Paper Products (FPP.X) 255.92 -2.12% and North American Telecom Index (XTC.X) 399 -2.14%.

Jeff Bailey

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